On a dark winter day in 1981, Roger Hill sat in a windowless cubby in the dungeons of Massachusetts General Hospital, in Boston, designing a computer model of blood flow and pressure inside the lung. He was a Harvard postdoc, with a Ph.D. in engineering from Oxford, researching pulmonary artery function. But what he really wanted to do was build gadgets.

Harvard professor and anesthesiologist Warren Zapol stopped by. Zapol was studying patients who survive oxygen deprivation and was also trying to understand sudden infant death syndrome, in which a baby stops breathing for no apparent reason. He thought that both situations might be related to the way marine mammals’ bodily functions change when they dive. He asked Hill if he could build a gizmo that could be attached to the back of a seal and record depth and heart rate and take blood samples while the seal dived into the water.

Keep Reading ↓Show less

This article is for IEEE members only. Join IEEE to access our full archive.

Join the world’s largest professional organization devoted to engineering and applied sciences and get access to all of Spectrum’s articles, podcasts, and special reports. Learn more →

If you're already an IEEE member, please sign in to continue reading.

Membership includes:

  • Get unlimited access to IEEE Spectrum content
  • Follow your favorite topics to create a personalized feed of IEEE Spectrum content
  • Save Spectrum articles to read later
  • Network with other technology professionals
  • Establish a professional profile
  • Create a group to share and collaborate on projects
  • Discover IEEE events and activities
  • Join and participate in discussions

Why Functional Programming Should Be the Future of Software Development

It’s hard to learn, but your code will produce fewer nasty surprises

11 min read
A plate of spaghetti made from code
Shira Inbar

You’d expectthe longest and most costly phase in the lifecycle of a software product to be the initial development of the system, when all those great features are first imagined and then created. In fact, the hardest part comes later, during the maintenance phase. That’s when programmers pay the price for the shortcuts they took during development.

So why did they take shortcuts? Maybe they didn’t realize that they were cutting any corners. Only when their code was deployed and exercised by a lot of users did its hidden flaws come to light. And maybe the developers were rushed. Time-to-market pressures would almost guarantee that their software will contain more bugs than it would otherwise.

Keep Reading ↓Show less